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Gender ministry backtracks on plan to legally recognize alternative families

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Minister of Gender Equality and Family Kim Hyun-sook speaks during a National Assembly session, Sept. 20. Joint Press Corps
Minister of Gender Equality and Family Kim Hyun-sook speaks during a National Assembly session, Sept. 20. Joint Press Corps

By Lee Hyo-jin

The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family is backtracking on its plan to embrace diverse forms of families ― such as unmarried cohabitating couples ― as formal legal households, drawing criticism from civic groups, which support the move.

According to Rep. Chung Kyung-hee of the ruling People Power Party, Friday, the ministry recently withdrew its support for proposed revisions to the Framework Act on Health Families, which seeks to expand the legal definition of family to include those based on closeness and care for each other.

Under the current Civil Act, only units formed by marriage, childbirth or adoption are recognized as families, leaving other forms of households deprived of government services in childcare, tax subsidies, inheritance, housing loans and medical emergencies.

However, in accordance with the decline in marriages and the continually falling birthrate, calls have been rising among civic groups to create an environment in which all families ― including foster families, cohabitating couples and common law marriages ― are respected, without being discriminated against.

In response, in its 2021-2025 Basic Plan for a Healthy Family Policy announced in April 2021 during the previous Moon Jae-in administration, the gender equality ministry said it would push for an amendment of the Civil Act and thus widen government support for family units.

While the move was widely supported by women's rights groups and liberal civic groups, it prompted a backlash from ultra-conservative Protestant groups and some parents' associations who believe that the amendment would ultimately lead to the legalization of same-sex marriage.

In a statement released on Saturday, the gender equality ministry explained that it "seeks to expand support to unmarried, cohabitating families by using feasible measures while avoiding fruitless debates on the legal definition of families," but did not specify why it has decided to reverse its plans.

Lee Hyo-jin

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